The Obama administration is triple teaming the problem of food deserts in Americaâs urban core and rural regions with a planned $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health and Human Services and Treasury Department are poised to play a role in providing resources for new outlets for fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy food to Americaâs underserved populations.
The initiative was announced in Philadelphia Feb. 19 by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and First Lady Michelle Obama.
The Healthy Food Financing Initiative seeks to eliminate food deserts â urban areas more than a mile from a supermarket â in the U.S. within seven years, according to a news release from the USDA. The goal for the $400 million for fiscal year 2011 is to expand healthy options in as many as one-fifth of the areas in need, the release said. The money will be used to provide financial and technical assistance to expand healthy food options, including tax credits, below-market rate loans, loan guarantees and grants to attract private sector capital.
Through a new tool, called the Food Environment Atlas the USDA has determined that 23.5 million people live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket.
The program could be valuable to help build fresh produce sales and improve diets, one industry leader said.
âI think it will make a big difference,â said Lorelei DiSogra, vice president of nutrition for United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C. âFor me, the most important thing is that this will increase access and availability for fruits and vegetables, and that is going to increase consumption.â
One of the most critical measures of whether a region is classified as a âfood desertâ relates to the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
DiSogra said it is impressive that three federal agencies and the first lady are backing the initiative, though she said Congress must now deliver the money for the program.
The national program is patterned in large part like the Food Trust program in Philadelphia, DiSogra said, which has been successful in expanding healthy food options but also created small businesses and jobs.
DiSogra said the fact that this new national program has attracted substantial support in an era where deficit related cutbacks are the norm speaks to the importance of the issue, she said.